Mercer’s art department makes changes to better fit students’ needs

Freshman Art major Isabel Newberry enjoys a morning drawing session outside of Hardman Hall.

Image: Mary Lathem

Freshman Art major Isabel Newberry enjoys a morning drawing session outside of Hardman Hall.

Mary Lathem, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When Mercer’s visual art students returned to school this fall, they were greeted by some firsts and a few much-needed renovations: improved work areas, a new degree program and, for the first time, nude models for the department’s life drawing course.

Hardman Hall, the home of Mercer’s Art department, has been updated to include larger work spaces and better overhead lighting, but these are not the only highly anticipated changes to the department.

As of this year, the Art department is offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program in addition to its existing Bachelor of Arts programs.

“The Art department, much like other parts of Mercer, [is] growing,” said Eric O’Dell, an assistant professor of art at Mercer. “We are building to accommodate a larger future in many ways.”

According to O’Dell, the improved lighting in Hardman Hall has made a tremendous difference. “Lighting is to visual artists what sound quality is to musicians,” O’Dell said. “If we have a great room with terrible lighting, it’s like having a great recording played through K-Mart speakers.”

Many of the building’s classrooms have also been renovated; for instance, the printmaking classroom has been expanded by 35 percent to give students more room to create their artwork.

In addition to the new degree path and renovations, the department’s life drawing class welcomed its first-ever nude models in September. When O’Dell was hired in 2013, he was surprised to discover that the program still did not use nude models, which he asserts are “necessary” to a proper education in the visual arts.

They don’t put clothes on the cadavers in the medical school . . . In the same way, (our students need) to work with the real figure.”

— Eric O'Dell

“They don’t put clothes on the cadavers in the medical school,” O’Dell said. “In the same way, (our students need) to work with the real figure.”

After a great deal of paperwork and preparation, three nude models have been hired to attend the life drawing class on a rotating basis throughout the semester.

“(Having the nude models) has been fantastic,” said O’Dell, “I told the students, ‘You’re going to be a part of something that you’ll look back on and realize how important this moment was for the Art department.’”

Of course, using nude models in the classroom comes with its precautions. Students are not allowed to bring their cell phones into class, and the shades must be drawn at all times. In addition, no Mercer students may volunteer to pose as a nude model: the models are all professionals in the field who are unassociated with Mercer. However, O’Dell said that the response to the models has been overwhelmingly positive from both students and the administration.

“It sets a tone of seriousness (to use nude models),” O’Dell said. “(All of the students) have been very businesslike… I suspect that people outside of the class may have more concerns than those in the class.”

O’Dell, who graduated from Mercer as an Art major, also credits Mercer’s administration for their openness to new ideas and additions to the Art department. “As an (alumnus) and faculty member, I can say that the support from the administration has been tremendous,” he said.

In the next few years, O’Dell anticipates even more positive additions to the visual arts at Mercer. The department is moving toward the addition of a gallery and studio building located in downtown Macon. Studio spaces for junior and senior BFA students will be located above the gallery, providing a direct connection between Mercer’s Art department and Macon’s thriving visual arts culture.

“It’s very exciting for our department, it’s very exciting for the university, and ultimately, it will be a great thing for the community,” O’Dell said.

For more information on Mercer’s Art department, please visit